Thu. Jun 13th, 2024

I am sure many students and faculty have noticed the cordoned off construction site walking around campus this fall by Phillips Memorial Hall. If you have enrolled in any African and African-American English courses, you’re probably aware of the reason for this construction site.
All the buzz is about a life-size replica statue of the abolitionist Frederick Douglass that is going to be erected at this site. Douglass was a former slave in the mid-nineteenth century in the south that escaped to the north. He became an authority in the abolitionist movement and gave his last public address at West Chester University on Feb. 1, 1895.
However, after Douglass resigned from public life he continued his work as orator and activist up until his death. Douglass was a regularly enrolled member of the National Women’s Suffrage Association and he spoke at the Women’s National Council on Feb. 20, 1895. He died of a heart attack that same night at the age of 78 at his home in Washington.
The Frederick Douglass Institute started a campaign to raise money for the statue over two years ago. One of their first donors was former mayor of West Chester, Clifford DeBaptiste. The place where the statue will stand on campus is being named the Clifford E. and Inez E. DeBaptiste Plaza. A ceremony will be held at 3 p.m. on Oct. 1, 2013 to dedicate the statue.
WCU is one of the first universities in Pennsylvania to start an institute in honor of Douglass. Today, 14 universities in the Pennsylvania State Universities System have institutes.
The artist commissioned to create the statue is a former professor of art in sculpture and current member of WCU’s art department, Mr. Richard Blake.
The artist stated that creating this statue involved an ancient technique in sculpture that “defied all the modern forms.” Blake said, “The process involves creating a smaller model to be approved, which is a French term known as a ‘maquette,’ then forming the 7-foot-2-inch life size clay figure that took about a year. Finally, the clay molding was sent to a foundry to be cast in bronze which took another three months.”
The statue depicts Douglass holding a cane in his left hand, stepping forward. “It was important to show Douglass in movement–not static,” said Blake. Also in his right hand is a broken rope.”The rope is an ancient symbol of bondage, but because it’s broken represents his emancipation,” Blake said.
Blake decided to create a younger scholarly version of Douglass that students could relate to. Blake said, “I chose to depict Douglass coming north at an early age embarking on a new life after escaping slavery, so students could ponder their own lives.”
I think one of the most positive things about this monument is the chance for students to reflect about their own lives. While talking to Blake and other faculty around campus, I could not help but reminisce about my own education growing up
Another statue that Mr. Blake has created is a sculpture of Martin Luther King Jr., which is on display at the University of California, Fresno, Cal. Many students and faculty probably heard excerpts of King’s “I have a Dream” speech in the news, and this year marks the anniversary of the 50th March on Washington. King reminded us of the meaning of the Declaration of the Independence, “Black men, as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of liberty, life, and the pursuit of happiness.”
However, talking to Blake about the intrinsic meaning of the Douglass statue was interesting. Blake said that the meaning of the statue should not be solely the issue of civil rights, but more importantly, the issue of the human condition.
The Douglass statue will be such a strong symbol because it is the portrait of the life of a man that went from rags to riches. It is the story of a former slave, his escape from enslavement, and rise to a leading abolitionist of his day. This statue is a universal symbol because it represents someone that came from humble beginnings, something that everybody can relate to in some degree.
This is a watershed year to dedicate the Douglass statue. The American people have gathered in a March on Washington for the second time to celebrate freedom and to mourn injustice. It was especially interesting to listen to people’s accounts that participated in the original march. One of those persons was U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia who said, “We must stand up and fight the good fight, for there are forces, there are people who want to take us back.”
Douglass stood up to injustice and fought for freedom even though it probably was mpt the easier life. Now he stands, all 7 feet and 2 inches of him, in the same place he made his last appearance and delivered his speech “Against Lynch Law”. The broken rope Douglass holds in his hand is a reminder of our past, but also the promise of the future.
Joe Olmstead is a student at West Chester University majoring in English writings with a minor in journalism. He can be reached at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *